In an ironic twist, the transgender rights movement has been handed an important legal victory that will seemingly scuttle Richard Simmons’ defamation lawsuit against a tabloid that wrote stories claiming he was transitioning into a woman named Fiona.
As Variety reports, the judge in the case has indicated he’ll be dismissing Simmons’ lawsuit against the National Enquirer and Radar Online for reporting that the reclusive fitness guru, 69, was becoming a woman (Simmons has repeatedly and vehemently denied the stories).
In a tentative ruling, Judge Gregory Keosian ruled that being misidentified as transgender does not automatically make that person the target of “hatred, contempt, ridicule or obloquy,” and, as a result, does not fit the legal definition of defamation.
“While, as a practical matter, the characteristic may be held in contempt by a portion of the population, the court will not validate those prejudices by legally recognizing them,” Keosian ruled.
On Wednesday, lawyers for Simmons (who has not photographed nor seen in public since 2014) argued that while the judge’s opinion may be high-minded, it’s not necessarily true.
“There are giant segments of society in this country who endorse the kind of prejudice and hatred and shunning of transgender persons in a way that is dramatically different than the way we treat race in this country,” argued Simmons’ attorney, Rodney Smolla.
“The object of the National Enquirer was to do everything they could to humiliate this person,” added Neville Johnson, another Simmons lawyer. “They made it up entirely out of whole cloth. I submit that when you make something up intentionally… and put it on the cover, there’s an inference you can make that somebody’s reputation is going to be harmed.”
However, the defendants’ attorney took issue to that, deriding Simmons’ lawsuit as “a case essentially in search of a legal theory,” adding: “It’s not something that is actionable. There is nothing inherently bad about being transgender.”
As a result, the judge determined that Simmons does have the proper evidence to back up his claims that the articles were defamatory, regardless of whether the stories were false, and thus cannot proceed with the lawsuit. As a result, the defendants will have the opportunity to file to have Simmons pay for their legal fees.
The final ruling is expected to be rendered within the next few days.